Clinging to Memories of a Ghost Who Haunts Chile (Movie Review/Salvador Allende)

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One from the heart, “Salvador Allende” is the Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán’s plaintive look back at the rise and violent fall of the world’s first democratically elected Marxist president. Mr. Guzmán, who went into exile after the Sept. 11, 1973, coup that led to Allende’s death, has returned to the country of his birth with a camera in hand and a storehouse of passionate memories. Alas, little of that passion informs the filmmaking in this documentary dirge, a memento mori about “the other Sept. 11” that’s drenched in revolutionary tears but lacking much in the way of historical and political insight.

In the movie’s eloquent opener Mr. Guzmán speaks in voice-over while he rifles through a battered wallet. This, he explains, is almost all that remains of Allende. In the scenes that follow, the documentarian restlessly circles back to Allende, envisioning him as a structuring absence that hovers over the country like a ghost, shaping even its troubling silence about the past. For Mr. Guzmán the present, which he shoots in serviceable color with some nice detail, holds little evident appeal. What gives the movie a pulse, enlivening both it and his actual voice, are the black-and-white archival images of cheering workers and youth on the march, visuals that melt into a blur of placards, fists and smiles, placards, fists and smiles.

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